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Family Vandwellers in a VW Westfalia

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By Penny Espinoza

Last year was a pivotal time in my life. It was the year I finally set myself free:

  • free of clutter,
  • free of worry,
  • free of the four walls that had contained and trapped me,
  • and free of conforming to the life everyone thinks I should live.

I was tired, and we were restless, my husband had lost his job, and…initially we had thought “Oh no! What are we gonna do?! How will we pay for all of our ‘stuff’?!” We worried and stressed.

In the end, we decided not to pay for any of the stuff we’d been working endlessly to house. Instead, we sold it all and decided not to sign another lease with our landlord. The timing was right, since the house had been inherited by another owner. We’d grown fond of our landlords, though one had passed, spinning our future down an uncertain path. It was time to move on.

For months before my husband’s lay-off, I had felt compelled to start selling on eBay. Just about everything I hadn’t used or worn in a while went up for auction. The more I sold, the more I wanted to sell! And so I sold to my heart’s content: anything and everything. By the time we were jobless, I knew I wanted to sell it all. More importantly, I knew I wanted to travel and see God’s beautiful creations; see different places, meet new people, smell a new scent in the air.

I had been trying for nearly four years to track down the owner of an abandoned Classic Volkswagen Westfalia camper van that was parked in someone’s backyard, just down the street from my mother-in-law’s. At last, there was a For Rent sign posted in the yard where the van was parked behind the house. I called the number, and spoke with an English gentleman; he turned out to be the owner of the van. I told him I wasn’t calling about the house I just wanted to buy the van in the backyard. He laughed, but quickly named his price. Somehow, my reality was coming to me. I wanted to travel cross-country in that very van.

After some doing and much selling, we gladly sacrificed two ‘younger’ Germans (a 740 i L and 325 i C), for the sweet pleasure of acquiring one ‘older’…much less inhibited German. It was like my freedom had been delivered right to my door the day our classic Westy came home via a flat-bed wrecker. Even though our van would start and run, we didn’t want to take any chances on damaging her further, not knowing what had been left to go bad. It was like the best Christmas ever, ten times over. I was beyond excited to know she was actually ours. I had fallen in love with our van. To me, she was our ticket out of the rat-race. My mind was alive with dreams and my heart with hope. I felt like a kid once again.

The first day we had her (though it was no easy task) we washed and scrubbed her, sweeping out the cobwebs, giving our classic Westfalia a new look. From that day on, we called her Peniki (a nickname our family had given us—a mixing of mine and my husband’s name). To us, she was part of the family that had consisted of me, my husband, my two adult kids, our little girl, and Blanca…our K-9 kid. I knew Peniki was our way to living ‘off the grid’ as a family.

Of course, we were met with doubt and criticism from our family and friends. Fortunately, we didn’t care what they thought about our grand plan. They hadn’t been the prisoners of our bills and a lack of steady income. We stepped out in faith with the Lord. Somehow, I just knew it was what we must do, against all odds and acceptance. It was exciting to think of living our lives out there…in our van, waking up to see a different sunrise, somewhere down the road, self-sufficient and not so reliant on shore power. Never could one feel so free.

I come from the philosophy that nothing worth having in life is ever easy. I can look back over the last year and realize…this life we chose has certainly not been easy. Was it worth it? I can undoubtedly say “Yes! It was so worth seeing the sunset in the Florida Keys, the Grand National Forests, waking-up to a lovely sunrise over the ocean or tucked into the Grandfather pines of our nation’s protected land. Yes! It was completely worth sifting my toes into new sand; the likes of which I’d never-before known, and seeing the smiling face of our little girl…waddling in her toddler way…down to the beach, or nodding-off in a hammock with her Daddy…by the water’s edge.” I wouldn’t change it for any size ‘house of four walls’, or a line of the most luxurious automobiles; not for all the tea in China! What we lived…what we experienced was worth more than money can buy. It was priceless! As I believe, the best things in life are free. God’s land is there for the viewing and enjoying… the caring for and coveting. We choose one or the other; conforming…or not. I’ll choose ‘not’ any day. It is a ‘free’ country, so they say. Shouldn’t life be the same? My answer goes without saying.

God Bless…and “I’ll see you down the road.”

400 Watt Power Inverter Charged while Driving: for Powering Laptop, Charging Phones/Camera, Small Lamp

400 Watt Power Inverter Charged while Driving: for Powering Laptop, Charging Phones/Camera, Small Lamp


Bedtime at VW Campmobile Campsite: See bed pulled out inside van, with camp kitchen set up down inside Drive-away tent. Battery-powered lantern on kitchen rack.

Bedtime at VW Campmobile Campsite: See bed pulled out inside van, with camp kitchen set up down inside Drive-away tent. Battery-powered lantern on kitchen rack.

Potty & Solar Shower Tent, Complete with Baby’s Potty too

Potty & Solar Shower Tent, Complete with Baby’s Potty too

Pump Faucet Sink with 7.5 Gallon Water tank beneath, Vintage Igloo Water Cooler w/ Spigot, and Butcher Block for chopping veggies & fruit

Pump Faucet Sink with 7.5 Gallon Water tank beneath, Vintage Igloo Water Cooler w/ Spigot, and Butcher Block for chopping veggies & fruit

    Solar Shower, Warming in the Sun

Solar Shower, Warming in the Sun

Food Items We Carry on Van:                                                           

  • Dairy: Powdered Milk Mix for Baby, Butter in Tub or Sticks (if Ice Box is chilled), Eggs, Cheese (small pkg if Ice Box is chilled).
  • Misc Items: mayo (small jar), Bread, Hot Dogs (if Ice Box is chilled), Ranch in non-refrigerated single-serve cups, mustard, ketchup (in packets or small container), honey.
  • Necessities: Water (Gallon Drinking Water, 7 Gallons in Van Sink Holding Tank), Ice in Ice Box (16 lbs. lasts about 2 days…at best)
  • Dry Goods: Peanut Butter & Saltine Crackers, Trail Mix, Ramen Noodles or Cup o’ Noodle, Rice, Instant Pancake Mix (just add water), small container syrup, Instant Oatmeal, Instant Mashed Potatoes, Cooking Oil, Olive Oil, Flour & Sugar (small supply of each), Dry Pasta, Dry Legumes (beans), Jar Sauces (small supply), can tomato sauce, coffee…coffee…coffee (and decaf too), tea (loose or bags), various spices such as curry powder, garlic powder, sea salt/pepper, Italian seasoning, chili powder, all-purpose seasoning.
  • Fruit & Veggies: Dry Potatoes, Bag of Apples, Onions (1 or 2), dry Carrots, Avocado, Canned Veggies (we limit b/c of weight), a few Pears, 1 or 2 Tomatoes (if Ice Box is chilled), Grapes, frozen peas & carrots (if ice box is chilled).
  • Canned Meat, Poultry, Fish, small can chili, Vienna Sausages, Spam, potted meat, sardines, smoked oysters, smoked scallops, tuna fish, chicken in can, etc.

Other Necessities


  • Camp stove, Extra cans of propane, Paper Towels, Foil or plastic wrap, 2-3 small cooking pans, Bowls, Plates, Flatware, Kitchen tool caddy, 2 Thermoses, Small Igloo Water Cooler w/ Spigot (for extra ice and cold water), Small collapsible cooler, Various glues/hooks/clips, Portable 110 cooler/warmer, Trash bags, Reusable shopping bags, Several small lighters and 1 or 2 big ones.


  • Solar shower, Coleman port-a-potti, Shower/Potty tent, Toilet paper, Bath/shower supplies, Wet wipes, Tooth brush/tooth paste, 4 to 5 towels, Washcloths, Extra blankets/pillowcases/sheets, Female stuff, Sunscreens & bug sprays or wipes, After sun aloe gel, Lotions (because I like to have soft skin),


  • Clothes according to season (I ALWAYS pack too much), Spare off-season clothing, Rain parka & boots, Small collapsible back-pack,


  • Drive away room tent, Bikes, Baby stroller/trailer, Fold-up camp chairs, Various chargers for phones/laptop/cameras, Small electric heater, A few books, Playpen for baby, Air-up floaties for baby, Life Jacket/swimsuit for baby, A few small toys for Baby, Portable high-chair for baby, Blow up ducky tub for baby, Blow up baby pool,


  • Flash lights, Battery powered lantern, Extra batteries, Small solar panel (working on an upgrade), Two extra on-board batteries (1 deep cycle charged while driving & 1 regular battery for solar charging), 400 Watt power inverter, smaller power inverter for charging directly while driving, Three socket 110 connector on deep cycle battery, 110 clip-on fan, Small light for night viewing of maps or compass, Slim line CD player/clock radio, CD/DVD’s in pocket-book holder, Portable AC/DC DVD Player.


  • Various tools, Extra parts & fuel line for van, Spare tire (of course), Various road maps, Compass, Emergency tin (matches, candles, knife, mini-light, etc.), First-aid kit, Lock box,

Free or Cheap Camp Spots for Self-Sustaining Family Van-Dwellers

  • Kisatchie National Forest – Gum Springs Campground, Central Louisiana on El Camino East to West Corridor Hwy 84 — $3.00 a night, on the honor system (two week limit), for primitive sites w/ water, fire ring, picnic table, lantern hook, and bathrooms. A hiking trail is available for walking, bike riding, or horseback riding pleasure, and a beautifully reflective lake at the trailhead of Gum Springs.
  • Homochitto National Forest – Primitive Campsites, no water, fire-rings, scenic seclusion for $7.00 a night on the honor system (two week limit).
  • Galveston Island West Beach – Free primitive camping for as long as allowed (be your own judge of how long to stay, though two weeks tops…should be a good limit for remaining off the grid.
  • Rocky Springs Camp on Natchez Trace Parkway – Free primitive camping for up to two weeks, with fire ring, picnic tables, large campsite in natural, peaceful setting, bathrooms and running water nearby.
  • R Place Campground – located near Palestine, Texas on Hwy 84, R Place offers primitive spots for $12 a night, with running water nearby, fishing in a private lake, and scenic…peaceful quiet surroundings.

Follow Penny and her family at their blog, Travels in a VW Hippie Van :


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